10 More Musical Films the Coen Brothers Should Make

Movies Features The Coen Brothers

With today’s limited opening of Inside Llewyn Davis, Ethan and Joel Coen have added a second “musical film”—not quite a true musical, but somewhere in the neighborhood—to their long and diverse careers. It joins O Brother Where Art Thou? in the melodic section of the Coens oeuvre, and now there are rumors that the next film will be about an opera singer. With film’s foremost brothers apparently giving themselves to music wholeheartedly, it’s only a matter of time before any and all spoken dialogue vanishes from the scripts. To help them out on this next chapter of their careers, we now offer up ten unmade musical movies that would be perfect for the Coens’ emerging style.


1. Jambalaya Zydeco


The Coens love showcasing unique subcultures of American life, but thus far have not made their way down to bayou country. But Jambalaya Zydeco, which are my two favorite Cajun words and which would also be a great name for a backwoods chef, gives them a clear opening. John Goodman stars as Zydeco, a hillbilly with a jambalaya empire and a monomaniacal desire to enact vengeance on his lifelong rival; the yellow gator that killed his brother, Crawdad Zydeco. It’s part Moby Dick, part Life Aquatic and part Treme, if Treme wasn’t boring. And it’s ALLLL musical, baby. Zydeco from beginning to end, including the hit number “Swamp Gas.” The gator’s name is Boseephus, and will be played by Steve Buscemi.

2. Mangum! The Musical!

If there’s one thing I know about Jeff Mangum, it’s that he’s eager to have his Neutral Milk Hotel songs adapted into a musical. He hasn’t said so, explicitly, but you can just tell. Josh Brolin would star as Mangum, but with a twist. The actual content of Mangum’s lyrics are a little dark, even by Coen standards, so we’d have to lighten them up a bit. Instead of a sad story about a guy with a tortured past who’s obsessed with Anne Frank, we’d make Mangum an assassin disguised as an indie musician. He would be retired at the beginning of the movie, but Obama (starring as himself) would convince him to return to take down one last supervillain: The King of Carrot Flowers, who terrorizes the planet with his holy rattlesnakes. This would be a commercial hit.

3. The Ghoul of the Singing Venue

The Coens are into opera now, and I’ve got this great idea about a mentally disturbed musical genius who lives in the bowels of one of those places where they sing that kind of music. He falls in love with a young diva named Kristy who thinks he’s the spirit of melody, and he trains her to become a star. There’s a big scene where the ghoul (John Turturro) tries to kill someone by dropping one of those fancy light fixtures from the ceiling, and later he gets jealous and tries to kill Kristy’s lover Rolph. But he’s moved by compassion, and sets them both free. Also, he has severe burns along one arm and wears a white disguise thing on that side of his body.

4. Embarcadero

I’ve always thought this was the best word in any language, and I respect and fear Jeff Tweedy for having the foresight to use it in his song “Via Chicago.” The word literally means “pier” or “jetty” in Spanish, and it’s also a waterfront neighborhood in San Francisco. The Coens’ Embarcadero follows two older ne’er-do-wells (George Clooney, J.K. Simmons) who decide to start smuggling weapons to local gangs through the San Francisco piers. Holly Hunter plays Medusa, the cop trying to catch them in the act, but along the way she falls in love with both men as she stalks them across the city. Oh, did I mention this is a silent film? With nothing but ragtime music? In the end, everyone dies.

5. Steal My Sunshine

This is a musical composed entirely of songs by the band Len. Except we cut out all their bad songs and only leave the hits. So it’s just “Steal My Sunshine.” And since the music video for “Steal My Sunshine” is already perfect, there’s no need to change anything…just play it back-to-back until you reach 90 minutes. Come to think of it, we don’t really need the Coens for this one at all.

6. Jazz Hands

Starring Jon Polito, Frances McDormand, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Jeff Bridges as a group of Chicago performers trying to perfect a new kind of street art where one guy plays the trumpet like Louis Armstrong (Polito) and everyone else marches in a circle doing the Charleston, emphasis on the jazz hands. The problem is that a local barbershop quartet (M. Emmet Walsh, Javier Bardem, Marcia Gay Harden, William H. Macy) keep beating them up in order to retain control of the streets. When Polito kills M. Emmet Walsh with the trumpet, though, the FBI gets involved, and the movie ends with no real resolution just like No Country for Old Men.

7. Fartin’ Bink

[Editor’s note: We have removed this item because it’s too stupid, even by this post’s standards. Starring Tony Shalhoub.]

8. The Eagles Are Actually A Pretty Good Band

After Jeff Bridges’ famous line from The Big Lebowski (“I hate the fucking Eagles, man”), it became cool to disparage one of the groovingest bands going. Or maybe it was already cool; I don’t know. But so many Eagles songs were used in that film that I can’t believe the Coens really hate them, and I think it’s their duty to undo the damage and make a film extolling the Eagles’ virtues. I guess it would star Billy Bob Thornton as a huge Eagles fan taking a road trip to see them in concert, and along the way he convinces a series of skeptics that the Eagles are awesome. The skeptics then join him on the road trip, and soon there are so many that they have to rent a bus, and then a convoy of buses, and then a fleet of jets. The catch here is that the only Eagles song you actually ever hear is “Already Gone,” and it’s only played for several seconds by a mariachi band. The rest of the film is full of the actors singing Credence Clearwater Revival tunes.

9. Sister Act III: The Third Act of Sisters

We need another Sister Act, guys. And for a franchise this good, it feels like the Coens are only directors who could pull it off. Starring Gabriel Byrne as the mean nun. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as Whoopi Goldberg.

10. A Version of Les Misérables That Isn’t Ruined By Russell Crowe’s Voice

Please, Ethan? Please, Joel?

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